In 1540, Hernando de Soto marched through Middle Georgia not far from where this column originates. Just down river from where I am in Macon, Georgia, de Soto performed the first baptism in North America on the banks of the Ocmulgee River. That river cuts a lazy path through Macon and Middle Georgia.
The Ocmulgee Indian natives, over time, migrated out of the area under force from the new natives, the Americans. Those new natives lived a quiet existence where rarely, like de Soto marching through, the outside world pierced in. When Sherman marched through in the Civil War, one house in Macon suffered damage from a stray cannonball.
Before Sherman arrived, Presbyterians built their church and towering steeple, which remained the highest point in Macon until the Catholics built their beautiful gingerbread-house-like church, St. Joseph's. The Catholics laid early roots in the area. In 1871, five Sisters of Mercy started the Academy of the Sacred Heart Jesus, a school to teach Catholic, Protestant and Jewish children. Their educational efforts preceded a public school system in the area. The school the Sisters of Mercy founded changed names to Mount de Sales Academy in honor of Saint Francis de Sales in 1876.
The world pierced in again in Middle Georgia at Mount de Sales Academy last week. The school's band teacher, Flint Dollar, could have been a character conjured by Flannery O'Connor, whose farm lies not far from Macon. Dollar is gay and intends to marry his boyfriend in Minnesota this summer. Mr. Dollar's job must now end.
The Catholic school was fine having a gay band teacher. Catholics understand the balance in the Bible of loving the sinner and not the sin better than many. All the teachers at Mount de Sales Academy are sinners of various kinds with varying levels of repentance. But marriage, even to the present progressive Pope Francis, who the left loves dearly except when they don't, remains a union between a man and a woman. Unlike most Protestants, Catholics even treat marriage as a sacrament of the church. Two men marrying is a corruption of an institution God himself established.
Suddenly, well-to-do parents intent on giving their children the discounted cost of an award-winning Catholic education, as opposed to the pricier Protestant and secular private schools in town, are horrified to learn their children are going to a Catholic school. A "Save Flint Dollar" page has been created on Facebook. Parents intend to meet with the head of the school to demand Mr. Dollar's job back. Mount de Sales, as Catholic education institutions tend to be, is rather tolerant. But tolerance does not extent to corruption of one of the church's sacraments.
Now the school and its church find themselves in an increasingly common situation. The peddlers of tolerance, confronted by deeply held views not their own, are intolerant of those views. There is no ground to compromise on tenets of faith. Christians who are often told Christ said to "render unto Caesar" are increasingly forced to let Caesar also set the immoral or amoral parameters by which they are allowed to conduct their operations.
The school has a hiring statement as farcical as our present age. "Mount de Sales Academy is committed to the principles of equal employment opportunities to all qualified individuals without regard to ... sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, or any other characteristic or status." But our laws and courts have not been silent on this issue.
The school is also a ministry. The Hosanna-Tabor case decided in 2011 by the Supreme Court would suggest strongly that the Catholic Church can dismiss Flint Dollar. But therein lies the great absurdity of our age. The church showed great tolerance in its hiring up to the line of sacrament. And the people of our age demand the church cross its line instead of the people going elsewhere.
The Pope, and his church, remain Catholic. Middle Georgia, to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor, though hardly Christ-centered, is most certainly Christ-haunted. But the world pierces in nonetheless.